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Editorial: How to help Hurricane Harvey victims, avoid being scammed

When a national disaster occurs, people are quick to open their pocketbooks with an outpouring of generosity, as we've seen in the days since Hurricane Harvey devastated the eastern coast of Texas. Unfortunately, crooks often seek to take advantage of people's good nature, and come out of the woodwork with scams new and old to bilk big-hearted people out of their money.

People who try to profit from others' suffering in times of crisis are the lowest of the low. Yet, it proves difficult for law enforcement to track down the perpetrators of such scams, who hide behind burner cellphones and IP addresses on the world wide web, potentially halfway across the globe.

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In an era of online fundraising, the scams are even easier to pull off. The Washington Post reported that one victim of Hurricane Harvey, whose family's rescue from their flooded apartment when an helicopter airlifted them to safety was aired by the local ABC affiliate, had multiple GoFundMe.com pages created in his name. Only one was created by the family. The others may very well have had people with good intentions behind them or they could've been fakes. But how can you tell?

Unfortunately, it's not easy to distinguish. The Federal Trade Commission has posted a series of tips on how to spot the signs of a charity scam, as well as a checklist for vetting any organization before donating.

How can you donate with confidence that your money is going help the most people? Donate through known, reputable entities like the American Red Cross or the Salvation Army, or look for local charities close to where the disaster has occurred.

Carroll County government, the sheriff's office and the Department of Public Safety have partnered up locally to help collect donations for these two well-known organizations as well as the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund of the Greater Houston Community Foundation and the United Way of Texas.

Officials collected donations at locations in Westminster and Eldersburg on Thursday, and will be collecting again Friday, Sept. 1, at the 140 Village Shopping Center (between Shoppers and Dunkin' Donuts) in Westminster and the Eldersburg Home Depot from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Checks can be made payable to the above listed charities, or to Carroll County Government. Once collected, money not designated to a particular charity will be evenly divided and sent to all four organizations on behalf of the county.

Cash is also accepted at these locations, but credit cards are not. Credit card users can donate directly to these charities through their respective websites; but be wary of phishing schemes with websites designed to look similar to the real thing.

One thing you can donate that you can guarantee will help people in need is your time. While not everyone can take leave from work or can afford to travel to Texas at the drop of a hat, relief and recovery efforts are expected to continue for months and years ahead. If you are interested and able to volunteer, reach out to the National Volunteer Organizations Active in Diasaster or the American Red Cross to learn more about opportunities available to help.



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